Every year growing up, the three of us kids would pile into my Dad’s mini-van (we had a first-gen Ford Aerostar) and head north from the city to the ritzy Detroit suburbs. The big lakeside mansions always had the best Christmas lights displays and as we drove along, we’d listen to Christmas music. One track in particular brings back warm fuzzy memories: “Truckin’ Trees For Christmas” by Red Simpson.
Oh what? You’ve NEVER heard “Truckin’ Trees For Christmas” from the Red Simpson album Truckers’ Christmas? Well friends, allow me to introduce to you your new Christmas tradition. Take it away, Red:
Red Simpson is an interesting character. He was one of the architects of a sub-genre of country known as the Bakersfield sound, which would eventually turn into honky tonk revival and outlaw country. Simpson certainly isn’t the biggest name in the genre, which contains the likes of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and others, but he was still a minor legend in the scene, according to his 2016 obituary in the New York Times:
After returning to Bakersfield, he played in local nightclubs, including the Blackboard, where he filled in for Mr. Owens on weekends. “Even though Buck and Merle are regarded as the pillars of the Bakersfield sound, Red was right up there along with them,” Michael Gray, the music editor of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said in an interview on Tuesday. On his Facebook page, Mr. Haggard wrote, “He played a huge part in the Bakersfield sound.”
Mr. Simpson and Mr. Owens became good friends and songwriting partners. Mr. Owens took their song “Sam’s Place” to the top of the country charts in 1967. Mr. Simpson also wrote “You Don’t Have Very Far to Go” for Mr. Haggard in 1965 and “Close Up the Honky Tonks,” recorded by Mr. Owens in 1964 and later by Gram Parsons and Dwight Yoakam.
“He wrote more than 30 songs that Buck recorded,” the music historian Scott B. Bomar told The Bakersfield Californian. “He wrote about eight or so songs that Merle recorded. Red’s fingerprints are on Buck’s and Merle’s songs, as theirs are on his.”
Simpson was particularly known of carving out a charming corner for himself inside of the Bakersfield sound: trucker country. Even though he had been making music since the ’50s, Simpson hit the country music charts hard in the ’60s and ’70s with hits like “Roll Truck Roll,” “Country Western Truck Drivin’ Singer,” “Awful Lot to Learn About Truck Drivin’” and a whole song from a tractor-trailer’s perspective called “I’m a Truck.” A lot of his songs dealt with the freedom and loneliness of the open road.
I didn’t know any of his background, really, before reading his obituary today (Simpson died due complications from an earlier heart attack on January 8, 2016. He was 81.) What I’ll always know him for is this album of Christmas songs, which somehow entered my family’s music rotation:
In the old Marquis household, music was a constant thread and Christmas was no exception. While my Dad is an musicphile and guitar player with some local reputation, my mom didn’t care quite as much, until Christmas rolled around. Then she pulled out all the Christmas music cassette tapes; Old standards by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby would certainly be the mainstay, but it was Red Simpson telling us all about “Truckin’ Trees for Christmas” or how “Santa’s Comin’ In A Big Ol’ Truck” that I loved most. Especially, I think, because he introduces each track in a soft, gracious old-timey voice that just warms my heart, like a grandpa reading Christmas stories out loud by a fire.
It’s very corny but warm and rich and lets you imagine a time that never really existed: Perfect for the holidays.